5-10-15-20-25-30: Music through the years

Inspired by Pitchfork Media's feature asking artists to reminisce about the music they enjoyed at five year intervals in their past. I am always up for writing about music's influence and impact on my life.

 When I was five, most of the music in my house was chosen by my father who loved Elton John, Billy Joel, the Beatles, but every once in a while he'd acquiesce and play The Beach Boys because my mother loved them. But the first music I chose, the one song I remember singing over and over again was Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," though I had no clue what it was about. I remember my mother asking me if I knew what "a lover" was. I said, "No," and kept singing and that was it. Thriller was one of the first records I bought with my own money, when I was about 7 or 8.


When I was in fifth grade or so, I used to walk down to my friend, Annie's house to play. It was there with her older brother and sister that I watched The Lost Boys and Dirty Dancing and heard George Michael's "Faith" for the first time. Once again, I didn't understand many of the lyrics of the album but it wasn't important at the time. Listening to it felt rebellious and wild, like something just out of reach. This is also the year my dad bought me a boombox/tape player which my brother and I used for our skating soundtrack, listening to Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" and Debbie Gibson's "Shake Your Love" and Salt N Pepa's "Push It," about which I was also completely clueless. Seems like my musical taste has always been part guilty pleasure and part subversion.

 I love that both Janet and Michael are on this list. This album holds a significant place in my teenagehood. I remember feeling empowered by it, dancing with my friends, thinking I was sexy or at least embracing the resemblance of sexy. At the same time, I was listening to Def Leppard, Spin Doctors, Gin Blossoms, Soul Asylum and Nirvana. I had moved to a new school in the middle of the year and was feeling really out of place. A kid who sat in English beside me never said very much to me at all, except that he noticed a pen I always wrote with sticking out of my pocket one day and he leaned over to tell me that I dropped it. That afternoon we ate lunch together on the quad and he introduced me to his friends who were really into music, Liz Phair and Dinosaur Jr. and Radiohead, stuff I'd never heard in the small Alabama town I'd moved from. I was this awkward girl with a funny accent and more pain and angst than I knew what to do with and this surfer kid connected to me and in one afternoon, I became part of the crowd. Through them, I would discover Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins, Candlebox and Pearl Jam whose musical imprint would alter how I expressed myself. I think that's when I really started to take more active ownership of my taste in music, when lyrics became important, when I wanted music to move me. Sure, it was still fun and vibrant and something to sing to, but I started to learn that music was powerful and could be for me.
I have never been very musically inclined; mediocre at playing clarinet and I can't sing on key at all. But I love music; it fuels me, reflects my moods, gives me solace.

When I was in college, it was a really crappy time for music. It was the whole boy band, Spice Girls insanity and most of the stuff played on the radio was terrible. My friends at the time were mostly in bands, wanted to be in bands, were really into bands or strummed guitar as a hobby. I became obsessed with singer/songwriters like Ben Harper and musicians like Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright. One of my closest friends loved Lisa Loeb and learned to play most of the songs on her album, Firecracker. It remains a significant part of the soundtrack of nights staring at the stars after a long day of work and classes, falling asleep on C's porch after staying up all night sharing stories and arguing over which time period we'd want to return to; days driving to the beach, spending too long in the sun. When I hear these songs now, I smell suntan oil and ocean, strawberry lip gloss and kiwi shampoo.

At 25, I was finishing my Master's degree and settling in to my musical tastes. I listened to a lot of Belle and Sebastian, Ryan Adams, Basement Jaxx and Coldplay. For my birthday, I saw Coldplay live in New Orleans and it was amazing; I was there with some of my best friends and the music was beyond good. I listened to a lot of Ben Harper during this time, too because he'd released Diamonds on the Inside, which I really loved. But I was obsessed with Beck's Sea Change. I listened to it at least once a day for over a year. There's this deep melancholy underneath the album and I completely fell in love with writing with it as a soundtrack. I had a roommate then who knew if he heard Beck, not to mess with me. I still love the music on Sea Change and it resonates deeply with me. I was in a transition at 25 that would change the course of my life. I was leaving Alabama for the Midwest for my Ph.D. and unsure of where I would end up or what, exactly, I was leaving behind.

From Golden Age on Beck's Sea Change

Put your hands on the wheel
Let the golden age begin
Let the window down
Feel the moonlight on your skin
Let the desert wind
Cool your aching head
Let the weight of the world
Drift away instead
Ohh these days I barely get by
I don't even try

At 30, I was finishing my dissertation, so most of the music I listened was on Pandora. I created a station called "Writing Radio" with bands like Everest, The Honorary Title, Vampire Weekend, and Rooney as well as Adele, Jack Johnson and Bon Iver. Of course, I continued to listen to my standbys like Pete Yorn, Ryan Adams and Matchbox20. But what I remember most musically is Band of Horses, who I'd really liked when I heard them on Letterman a few years before and when Cease to Begin came out, I fell even more in love. They even have a song on one of the Guitar Hero games. The music was certainly my dissertation soundtrack; I used to joke that I was going to release a dissertation playlist and include it in my diss. pages. Maybe I should have.

Thinking about all of this music has made me want to go in search of some of it for my iPod, especially Sea Change, oh and George Michael. My musical spectrum is wide; as Whitman said: "I contain multitudes."